Web editor’s note: As mentioned last month, H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We continue to encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he slowly heals and regains strength. Once again, we are reposting a previously used blog entry, this one from March 15, 2014. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Spring break is taking place across the country during various weeks of this month and next — depending on one’s school, school district, or college institution. When I was young, the idea of spring break was much different than it is today. For most of us, our schools actually called it Easter break or Easter vacation, and it occurred the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It was not the socially celebrated time to get away from home and party with friends and strangers like it seems to have become today. In fact, a lot of churches in those days planned youth camps during this week and used the time off for spiritual activities. Others did other special things. But, among many of the “high church” denominations, the emphasis at this time of the year was on Lent.

Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. The term comes from the Middle English lente — meaning “springtime” — and from the Old English lencten, and was akin to the Old High German lenzin — meaning “spring.” Its first known use was in the 13th century. The Latin term is Quadragesima (a translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, or the “Fortieth” day before Easter).

“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial — linked to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert preparing for His ministry. This event, along with its pious customs, has long been observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. During Lent, many believers commit themselves to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves nearer to God.

I believe that — for you, my colleague — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.

During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:

  1. Who among us has someone to forgive?
  2. Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
  3. Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?

What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

Web editor’s note: As many of you may know (especially if you follow H.B. London on Facebook), H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We would encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he continues to heal and regain strength. In order to relieve some pressure from him, we are reposting his blog entry from January 30, 2012, when this blog was only two-and-a-half months old and the web site was in its eighth month of existence. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Ministry today is more difficult than it has ever been. It seems that each day we hear of another colleague in ministry who has fallen into immorality, another who has burned out, another who has in some way weakened the credibility of those called to God’s ministry. Why is this happening in record numbers today?

I think that, amidst the hectic expectations that we encounter in “real” ministry, we often lose sight of the commitments we made when we first accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord. Perhaps the standards by which we promised to live when we followed His call to be His ministers have been overshadowed by exhaustion or carelessness. Whatever the cause, we in ministry more and more are facing a crisis of integrity, righteousness, and credibility.

I believe it is crucial that we regain our focus and recommit ourselves to a lifestyle pleasing to the Lord, to our congregations, to our families, and to ourselves. We pastors are joined together by a common call of God to feed His sheep, but we are also tied by a common commitment to purity, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. This agreement transcends theological differences, denominational connections, and local congregational constraints. We are bound to one another by our calls and by the knowledge that one day the Great Shepherd will be the final Judge.

Several years ago, I introduced a concept I called the Shepherd’s Covenant®. It is a strategy for the moral, spiritual, and ethical protection of pastors based on the guidelines practiced by the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd’s Covenant® is built on the acronym G-R-A-C-E. Here are the basics of that covenant:

While this new year is still young, look at the first of these elements. How are you doing with accountability — genuine accountability?

  • Do you meet regularly with a colleague?
  • Do you really engage and challenge one another?
  • Do you pray for and support one another?

You need your accountability colleague — your colleague needs you! I realize accountability relationships are fluid, but they are very worthwhile. If you are having a tough time finding someone, select a pastor in town who has an assignment similar to yours and ask him to join you for a coffee break. It is amazing how productive those times can be. Honest, the members of the clergy that most often find their ministries in jeopardy are those who have no accountability. So, how are you doing?

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

This is the weekend we celebrate the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is my impression that Rev. King was essentially a man of peace. He often found inequality or injustice in our nation, but he generally sought a resolution through peaceful means. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King even received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. (King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.)

Violence is an attitude that permeates our society: grown men fighting one another at their sons’ Little League games, a father assaulting a teenage referee in a soccer game, one gang in a poor area of a city conducting a “turf” war with another gang, an unborn baby having his or her life terminated for the sake of convenience, a deacon threatening a pastoral staff member, and, lately, voters whose candidate did not win attacking voters whose candidate won in shameful and reproachable ways. There’s a kind of “get even” mentality that finds its way into every corner of our relationships — even in the church. One of my most embarrassing moments as a pastor was my involvement in a church league basketball game brawl. It was terrible!

In our Lord’s discourse on the end times, He indicates that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:7). In other words, there will be war everywhere you look. That seems to be the case today. Not only do we have wars raging; we also have rumors of more wars to come.

I hate the thought of war. I am well aware of the concept and why we engage in war, but it is difficult to think of so many people hating so many other people enough to want to kill them. It’s even worse when innocent soldiers are sent to kill other innocent soldiers simply because their leaders can’t get along. I am not being overly naive — I just hate war.

Why do we do these things? The answer: wickedness of the human heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Paul explained part of the reason for mortal conflict when he said, “The acts of the sinful nature are … hatred, discord … [and] dissensions” (Galatians 5:19-20). In other words, the motivation that causes war between nations is the same one that causes neighbors to do bodily harm to one another because the snow is not removed from the sidewalk. Or a church member to have such hatred for his pastor that he would do nearly anything to see the pastor lose his or her job. Or someone to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Or kill a president. Or murder a spouse.

The heart — that which tempers our reactions and causes us to love or hate — is basically evil. And unless there is radical surgery on the heart, there will never be peace. That is why Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). His peace is a transformation of the mind brought about by a changed heart.

Hearts must be changed. That is why you need to preach it: “Change my heart, O God.” “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4). Unless our hearts are changed by a relationship with Jesus, we will continue to hurt one another.

There will be a time when, like all men, we will stand before the awesome Judge of the universe and account for our behavior. Only then will we know genuine and complete justice. Unfortunately, the church does not talk much about judgment anymore, and because of that, a generation of people is going through life uninformed and unforgiven. That is a shame, because judgment is an integral part of the gospel.

Pastor, preach the whole gospel — not just the parts people want to hear. A dying world is in need of God’s saving grace. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

H.B. London at Friendship Church

Today (December 15, 2016) is my 80th birthday. I stand amazed at how God has taken care of me through the years and allowed me to continue serving Him. My early years, as many of you know, were played out the way to which many a P.K. (preacher’s kid) could testify, with good times and troubled. But God saw fit to call me to pastoral ministry, and I was absolutely blessed to serve as pastor of three churches over the next 31 years in California and Oregon ─ some of the hardest, yet most wonderful and fulfilling times anyone could imagine. I was then honored by an opportunity to serve beside my brother-like cousin, Dr. James Dobson, at Focus on the Family and to create a special ministry to pastoral families that lasted some 20 years. After “retirement,” I was continually asked to speak to pastors and their spouses at conferences and seminars through the fledgling H.B. London Ministries. And, now, the circle has come around and I again get to do what I love — pastor a small church in Palm Desert, California.

Over my 80 years, I have made more friends than anyone has a right to. Many of them have sent cards and greetings this week. It has been wonderful. There is a mix of both birthday and Christmas cards, and Beverley and I love sorting them out. I am a blessed man.

I think one point I would like to make this month is that, in the hurry of the Christmas season, you can easily overlook the significance of each greeting you open. You see, every card represents a person or family that you have influenced in some way.

Some of the first Christmas cards I read this week were from former church members I had helped through difficult times. As I read their letters, I rejoiced with them for the many blessings received over the past year. From others, I could read between the lines and find loss and pain.

I have lived long enough to recognize that each card has a very special nuance to it. These folks have invested their time and money to remember our family. I am thankful for that. In my last pastorate, there were so many people and so many cards that I took a lot of them for granted.

A suggestion: As you open your cards, take a moment to read the printed message, then visualize the family who took time to remember you. Pray for them and thank God for the privilege of having a small part in their Christian journey. Then, place the card in a basket or box with all of the others you receive. Later in the year, go back to that container and reread the cards and repray for those people. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in you.

Christmas cards in many ways echo the beautiful message of the angels so long ago: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). May this Christmas season fill you with the joy of that announcement.

A second point I would like to make here pertains to relationships. In so many ways, the gospel message is about relationships — especially that unique one God offers through Christ to each man and woman to belong to Him, to have sins redeemed, and to live eternally in His presence.

The Christmas season not only makes us think about family past and present, but also brings to mind friends who have touched our lives through the years. We do not see them as often as we would like, but when we are together, they seem like relationships that have always been. There will come a time in your life when you realize the most lasting and valuable things we have on this earth are the relationships we have nurtured over the years.

I am positive that, as you read this, you can think of a colleague who has gone through tough times. Perhaps there has been a failure of some sort in his or her ministry. Maybe their family is struggling. There might even be a pastor in your circle who has been forced to step away from his assignment because of a conflict within the congregation.

Likewise, think of all the people you have met in your ministry ─ those in your congregations, those in your communities, those in your denominations, those in your neighborhoods. Cherish those relationships.

My point is a simple one: The Christmas season can be very lonely for those of us who are away from our roots. The moves we have made have taken us out of our comfort zones. What might it mean to your clergy friends or others if you made a call, sent an e-mail, or initiated some contact that would help them realize they are not alone, that they matter? I urge you to take a few minutes and “do the friend thing.”

“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24, KJV).

Hey! Did you hear? We had a national election for President of the United States this month! It is one of the most important responsibilities we have as Americans — to elect our nation’s leaders. Congratulations to Donald J. Trump on his victory to become our next president, and condolences to Hillary R. Clinton in one of her saddest of moments, I’m sure. Both campaigned long and hard, as it should be. One won, and one lost. May God bless and oversee them both. And now we need to rally behind those who were elected at all levels of government as we move forward.

election-riots-250x140I have been utterly shocked into disbelief, however, to see the nasty and violent reactions of so many Americans and others, whether in anger or joy. I realize that, even with all of the protests and riots and bitterness, we are still talking about a very small percentage of our citizens, but it is still disturbing. And some even say they have seen the buses bringing in what appear to be professional rioters and protesters, indicating that a lot of what we are hearing and seeing on the news is orchestrated and political in motivation, and not truly the behavior of average citizens.

gods-love-250x275What really scares me, though, is that there seems to be so much hatred out there. And it seems to run quite deeply. Lots of ruthless name-calling and labeling have been going on since even before the election. I sense a lot of disunity in our nation right now, and it needs healing. What do you imagine your role could be or should be, my colleague, in bringing about unity and peace?

I looked up the word hate and found it defined as detest, abhor, loathe, and despise. All of these words are terrible when focused on another individual. They speak of feelings so strong toward another person that one’s actions, words, and attitudes are controlled by them.

Yet the Bible uses the word hate to describe both positive and negative reactions. For instance, Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me” (Luke 21:17). That’s a good thing for His followers. Paul wrote, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). That is a positive emotion for the Christian. John reminds us that if anyone claims to love God, but hates his brother (1 John 4:20), it is unacceptable.

It’s the last verse that confuses me. How can any of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ justify feelings so intense that we find ourselves — in mind and body — out of control?

no-hatred-250x250Election fury, road rage, spousal abuse, racism, and intolerance are all a part of the human condition. That’s a bad thing. Yet, hate also exists in the church. I’m afraid as clergy we have tolerated for too long these things in our own congregations. Where sin abides … the Spirit will not. Let’s “hate hate” in Jesus’ name and speak boldly against it!

“If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:20-21, MSG).

being-the-church-250x250Let’s face it, the church really needs to wake up and realize that our effectiveness and credibility come from “the church being the church” and not a finely tuned image campaign that creates a mirage. In many ways, the church is a mile wide and an inch deep. There are lots of folks who have been so deluded by our feel-good approach to the gospel that they are missing the born-again experience.

I will continue to be respectful of my critics, but I will not allow their watchdog mentality to stifle a message that I believe is from the Lord.

I often agonize for you, my friends, over the power players you must deal with on a weekly (or daily) basis. But you cannot allow yourself to be emasculated or let the message God has placed in your heart be weakened, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Paul wrote, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

stand-firm-250x150“I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone” (Titus 3:8, MSG).

Every day I deal with pastors who put themselves and their earthly passions above their call and their ministry. Nothing hurts the body of Christ more than a halfhearted dedication to the call of God to “tend the flock.”

I have been called, and assigned, for such a time as this — and so have you. You, in so many ways, are the comfort and grace of Christ to those you serve, and to our nation. Please stay strong, stay focused, stay pure, stay connected to the One who called you in the first place. You are vital to the world you serve.

psalm16_8-250x385The battles you engage in are His battles. The circumstances you face are familiar to Him. The burdens you bear may be placed on His shoulders with His permission. The weapons formed against you are, in a real sense, formed against Him, and they will not prosper. Nothing will ever separate you from His love or care.

We have a responsibility to lead our own people and our entire nation into a God-pleasing place. Yet, so often, under the pressure of our assignments, we feel we must “make it work” on our own or else. Not so! Your church is God’s church. Your call came not from man, but from God. He guides each step you take. Please do not ever forget that!

Our country and our world need you right now. You will be an instrument of peace and harmony if you let God use you as He wants. Start today.

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

clergyappreciationmonth19-250x188We are in the midst of Clergy Appreciation Month. It is a time when congregations are encouraged to honor, thank, and celebrate their pastoral staffs. It is an important time because we all know that being a pastor can often become discouraging, disappointing, depressing, and even destructive. Knowing that someone cares, knowing that you are making a difference, and being recognized by the people you love and serve can be a shot in the arm, a rebirth of compassion and commitment, a boost in your soul. I truly pray that your congregation has already done and perhaps is still doing something special, something tangible to let you know how much they value you. (By the way, even if you are not among the fortunate few for whom this is true, do not be disheartened or think that you are not appreciated by your people. You are worthy and loved.)

In the book of Hebrews are words written to a group of people about their pastors: “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Hebrews 13:17).

joy-250x250I thought a bit about what that phrase really means — “joy, not a burden.” I’m sure it does not mean people are just to be robotic yes-men to their pastors. Rather, they are to honor the divine calling of their pastors and conduct themselves in a way that brings joy to pastoring.

What would make ministry joyful for you? Here are a few thoughts:

  • People who continue to show growth in their walk with the Lord.
  • People who have a genuine concern for their brothers and sisters in the faith.
  • People who do not turn a deaf ear to the lost.
  • People who walk by faith and not by sight.
  • People who pray rather than faint.
  • People who are drawn to peace rather than contention.
  • People whose self-image is based on who they are in Christ rather than what they accomplish by themselves.
  • People who pass the torch of righteousness to the next generation.
  • People who love the church and give themselves to it.

I think each of us has a “joy meter” that registers what gives us joy and how much joy we experience. Please don’t let yours be based on what happens around you more than on your contentment in Christ and the job He has given you to do. Rejoice!

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

joy-vs-happiness-250x170Of course, my colleague, we are all aware that joy and happiness are two completely different things. It seems to me that joy comes from God, while happiness comes from circumstances or others. We can still be joyful even when we are unhappy about something. I pray that, as pastors, you can always claim joy even when everything around you is not perfect.

There was an article several years ago in the Christian Post reporting on a survey conducted by the University of Chicago. The survey found that being in the clergy was the top job for satisfaction among American workers: 87 percent of the pastors surveyed reported they were very satisfied. The exact quote was: “Pastors — perceived to be some of the most under-appreciated and on-demand workers in America — are actually the happiest and most satisfied in their jobs.”

clergyappreciationmonth9-250x167Now, get this! In addition to being the most satisfied, pastors also outranked other American workers as being the happiest (67 percent). It was interesting to note that doctors and lawyers did not make the list of the top 12 most-satisfied or happiest. At the bottom of the “happy” list were garage and service station workers (13 percent) and roofers (14 percent).

What made pastors the happiest workers in the land? Is it still true? Do you think it is based on the same criteria that makes other professions happy, or could it be because we are uniquely called and, in fact, our jobs are really not “jobs” as such? Could it be because we give hope to people and help them find the Lord? And, sometimes, we are humbled when they show their appreciation back for us?

clergyappreciationmonth23-250x183Are you joyful — if so, why? Are you happy — if so, why? Are you satisfied — if so, why? If not, why not?

The dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.” Is that how you would define it? Just something to think about.

Happy Clergy Appreciation Month! We love you and treasure what you do for our Lord!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Central ParkCentral Park is a great place. Suddenly, you are out of the hustle and bustle of New York City, and you are experiencing trees and water, people enjoying times with their children, a ride on the Ferris wheel, an ice cream cone, or some time to just sit on a park bench, feed the birds, or read a newspaper. The park is, for many, an oasis.

But here are the thoughts that kept coming to my mind as I recently shouldered my way through the crowds and sat and watched parents with their kids in Central Park: Who of them know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? How many of them really know how much God loves them? And, if they don’t know, who will tell them? Of course, there were street preachers — but no one really stopped to listen. I’m sure many of the people I saw are believers, but likely, the majority have never been born again.

So what? Well, the next question is, what do we do with John 3:18: “But whoever does not believe stands condemned”? My answer: Take our evangelistic task seriously and work harder. Double our passion. Be intentional. Never give up on anyone. Reach and preach for a decision.

 "Apostle Paul on Trial" by Nikolai Bodarevsky

“Apostle Paul on Trial” by Nikolai Bodarevsky

Do you recall the incident in Acts 26 when Paul was in a discussion with King Agrippa? Paul had been called insane by the king, but the apostle would not be silenced. The king finally asked Paul if he, in such a short time, would try to persuade him to be a Christian. Remember Paul’s response? “Short time or long — I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (v. 29). That was a debate Paul won — yet, in the world’s view, lost.Today, this is still our great challenge. How can we as pastors and Christian leaders make such a compelling case for salvation in Christ that people will be persuaded to accept it? The most important decision people will ever make is not who will be president, but where they will spend eternity. This is one debate we dare not lose. We must care deeply and fight endlessly for their souls. However, don’t forget that we do not work alone. The Holy Spirit prepares the hearts of others and ultimately convinces them of their need for a savior as we serve beside Him.

The scripture is pretty plain. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

faith-in-jesus-christ-alone-250x250I know we must be tolerant of other faiths — even though, when I was a kid, I thought the only ones getting into heaven had to believe like me. But I worry how healthy it is for the church to become so inclusive and accepting that, in our preaching and teaching, we fail to draw a very important line in the sand that cannot be compromised — namely, faith in Jesus Christ alone.

During our Sunday school days, we memorized a lovely verse: “For God [whose God?] so loved the world [what world?] that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever [anyone?] believes [accepts] in Him [as God’s only Son] shall not perish [be lost], but have eternal [forever!] life [in heaven with God].”

The bottom line for all of us, my colleague, remains — “Is anyone being saved here?” How do we return to that passion? We do it by pointing people from survival to surrender, to the power and love of God. That is our answer. And, by the way, thank you for all you do to point people to Jesus!

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:3-5).

As we take our evangelistic responsibility seriously, we cannot depend on the personal crises or scary events in the world to drive men and women into the church, or even to Christ. The only thing that will accomplish that goal is for mankind to realize that they are lost without Jesus. Foxhole conversions are few and far between, and not particularly lasting. The most effective way to turn people’s hearts to God is through the genuine witness of those who have embraced our Lord and who, with childlike excitement, share that good news (Mark 16:15).

franklin-avenue-baptist-congregation-250x160Each Sunday (or weekend) gives us clergy the opportunity to encourage our people to live lives of faith and courage, to engage their friends and family in meaningful conversation about the value of being born again (John 3:7). Is there a more important message? I think not.

An elderly pastor once quoted an old saying to me: “Don’t forget, son. The light that shines brightest at home can be seen farthest away!” The light of your local church ministry should shine so brightly that the world is influenced by its vitality and vision. Pastor, encourage your people to be light in a dark world.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Every four years, when the summer Olympic Games roll around, I become engrossed in sports that I have not heard anything about since the last games. Sports like double trap shooting, judo, fencing, canoeing/kayaking, and badminton don’t usually make headlines outside of a country winning the gold medal. The players may never be heard from again, but their gold medals are forever a source of pride for their countries.

We are currently in the midst of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are 207 nations (between 8,255 and 10,500 athletes) participating in 306 events in 28 sports in 37 venues. We are witnessing some of the most historical athletic endeavors of all time. Michael Phelps now has the most Olympic gold medals of any individual in the history of the games — 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze. Usain Bolt has proven that he is the fastest man alive by winning his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter dash. And, even though it is her first Olympics, Simone Biles is already being acclaimed as the greatest female gymnast of all time.

There are several traits that all of these Olympic athletes have in common, among which are focus, repetition, passion, and perseverance. This is a great lesson for folks like you and me: to “run,” as the writer to the Hebrews expressed, “with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Or to persevere, as James expressed: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Paul exclaimed in his farewell address, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). And again, he admonished Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).

When God called you, He did so with the full expectation that you would be a winner, not a whiner — that you would finish the race with joy, not drop out along the way. Paul looked back on his life and ministry saying, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was eligible for the prize … the crown.

So are you, my colleague, but you must fight the good fight — finish the race — and no matter what, keep the faith! You may never receive a gold medal, but if you remain faithful, the Righteous Judge will award you something much better: His approval, His recognition, His blessing. So be prepared: The finish line lies before you! Go for it! And do it with enthusiasm.

The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to also aim for perfection (2 Corinthians 13:11). In other words, do your best, be your best, hope for the best. The pursuit of excellence is a repeated story in the sports world. Reporters often write about:

1. Preparation
2. Recruitment
3. Performance
4. Coaching
5. Teamwork
6. Players at skilled positions
7. Study of the playbook
8. Second effort
9. Testings and challenges
10. Minimizing the turnovers
11. Will to win

And the list goes on.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, my colleague? The thing we have going for us is that, in our big games, there are no losers. You are a player/coach on the winning team in a struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. We may not succeed on every play, but one day when the final whistle blows, we’ll know “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

At the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I once visited an exhibit titled “Praxis — Athletes” by an artist named Kyriacos Lazarides. The paintings were all abstracts of famous Olympic athletes without names attached. There were gymnasts, runners, lifters, skiers, cyclists — you name it. In the mix of the paintings was a framed quote that caught my eye: “Praxis is not only to try and to give up, but praxis is also to penetrate, to fight, to win and to lose, to kneel down, to get up, to stimulate and to accept struggle and fight until the last breath.” It really reflects the Olympic spirit — it also calls to mind the commitment you must make to the challenge you face in life and ministry. That “never give up” spirit personifies who you are in Christ.

It reminds me of the challenge and promise our God issued to Joshua as he took the mantle of leadership from Moses: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Violence 250x167The current year is just a little more than halfway over. Apart from the frightening carnival that this year’s presidential election has become, what would you say is the biggest category of news story that is being reported and debated throughout the country and the world? Watching the nightly news and checking the Internet, my guess would be the stories on increasing, unnecessary, and unconscionable violence around the planet.

For example, just recently there was Thursday’s attack in Nice, France, when a large truck driving through Bastille Day crowds killed 84 people, many of them children. Also on Thursday, July 14, Baltimore police officers, responding to the sound of gunshots near an apartment building, fatally shot a man who fired at them with an AR-15-style rifle, authorities said. Also from yesterday, a Philadelphia father has been charged with waving a gun around a bedroom with seven children present until it went off, killing his 4-year-old daughter. An Indianapolis man was accused of firing shots into a police officer’s home on Tuesday, July 12, as his wife and child slept. And last week, on July 7, the Dallas Police Department became the first in the nation to use a robot to deliver and detonateViolence gun 250x156 a bomb to blow up suspect Micah Johnson, ending a night of terror in which he shot 14 officers, killing five of them, and also wounded two civilians. On July 6, in St. Paul, a black Minnesota man was allegedly shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. In Phoenix, a man was shot dead on June 10 as he sat in his car in front of his girlfriend’s house by a suspect who was identified later that week as the city’s first serial killer in a decade. Today like never before, violent extremists of all kinds are not just killing others in cold blood, but they are deliberately targeting young people with poisonous propaganda — especially in cyberspace, where they are flooding social media with slick recruiting videos and persuasive calls to action.

Sin separates 250x125Folks, we have a problem. And it’s not a new one. At the heart of each of the violent acts being carried out around our world is the same condition — sin! And what is the only remedy? Belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to earth as a man, lived a sinless life, was crucified and thereby paid the debt each of us owed for our sins, then rose again to conquer death forever and provide us with everlasting life. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.

Now, how does this work today? A significant part of the plan is the local pastor — you! “Why do we need pastors?” some will ask. Well, let me tell you why we need you now — at your best — more than ever.

Role Of The Pastor 250x167First: We need stability. The nation — the world — is spinning out of control. We need you steadfast and sure to point us to God. We need your leadership.

Second: There are so many questions. Why war? Why killings of the innocent in schools? Why so much corruption in our government? Why the lack of moral outrage? Why is the church so hesitant to get involved? Where do you find answers? We need to know what you think. We need your wisdom.

Third: Christianity is under attack. Everywhere I turn, I see the liberal media taking shots at Christ and those who follow Him. We need you to encourage us, to guide us to keep up the good fight.

Fourth: We see truth undermined at every turn. In Bible days, it was said that people did what was right in their own eyes. Not so different than today, huh? It is not so much what man says — we need to know what God is saying. We need you to tell us, “Thus says the Lord.”

Fifth: We need consistency. We need to be able to look at you and know that you practice what you preach. We need to see a renewal of faith in you and what you represent. We need to be able to trust your morals, your commitment, and your determination. We want to do that with confidence. We need you now more than ever … at your best!

Christian family 250x188In a little-quoted scripture, the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

The next truth to keep in mind is that you are not expected to do it alone. You cannot change the nature of man by yourself. You are to lead your church into the battle. The Church of Christ is the Body of our Lord. Its various members have assigned tasks and abilities that will allow It to do the will of Jesus in this perverted world. Prepare it to do so.

Your job? To pray without ceasing for your people. How do you pray for your church? Consider the following:

Pray …

Prayer - a passion for God 250x225► For the hearts of your people to blaze with love and loyalty to Christ our King and Lord of all.

► For church members to recognize their sin and openly confess the many ways they have grieved God. To seek forgiveness and renewal.

► That God would draw near to His people, revealing His presence with times of refreshing like water on a parched desert.

► For reconciliation, the removal of divisions and hostilities — for the church to work in unity.

► For a renewed passion for those who represent the least, the lost, and the lonely (such as those who resort to violence).

► That the church might be the initiating agent to eradicate loneliness and sin around the world through Jesus Christ.

A Big God 250x200When you pray, how do you pray for your church family? How do they pray for themselves? The early church “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). I believe the local church — your church — is the catalyst for real transformation in our nation. But it can happen only as we are willing to pray urgently, humbly, and often.

Pray, brother, pray! Pray, sister, pray!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Love-cross 250x150And, as you pray for them, they will respond in love — for you, for one another, for those they know personally, and for those they do not know personally, for the world. Love begets love. When you love your people genuinely, they will love you back and then some.

Over the years, that fact has been proven to me again and again. From many whose names I could not remember, and faces I could not identify, have come words of thanks and blessings for my loving them and standing in the gap for their families and marriages. As pastors, we make a difference more often than we could ever imagine.

There is a dangerous trend I see in the church — where the pastor wants to be served and stands aloof from the people of his pasture. I promise you that, years from now — no, weeks from now — your people will scarcely remember the sermons you preached. But I promise, they will never forget the love you showed to them and the joy you expressed at being called their pastor. They will Forgiveness from sin 250x188remember how you led them in the ways of Christ Jesus. They will see the power of the Lord as the resolution to the sin that is so violently prevalent today. They will
then make a difference.

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7).

Fathers-Day3-250x166Father’s Day shines bright this month. You may see more fathers and husbands in attendance than usual. You may see more sons and daughters, too. Take hold of this opportunity. Make a fuss over them.

For the major part of my pastoral life, I invested huge amounts of time in men. Early on, I realized it was a ministry that would reap great dividends. When fathers and husbands become convinced that church and spiritual things have value, they become a pastor’s greatest asset.

I have a theory that many men are opting out of the church altogether, or living on the fringe of the fellowship. Statistics have shown that there is a decline of younger male leadership and involvement in church Men-in-church-1-250x166activity. Leon Podles writes, ‘‘A basic fear in men has resulted: church threatens their masculinity.” The Barna Research Group reports, “While 90 percent of men believe in God, only a third (or less) of them attend a church.” David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, says, ‘‘A lack of male participation is one of the surest predictors of church decline.” He goes on to say, “If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today.”

That may not be the situation in your congregation, but the facts underscore the truth that, when men are involved in the church and committed to living a consistent Christ-like life, the congregation is healthier and families are more stable.

Men-in-church-3-250x167I further believe that the pastor cannot simply pass the responsibility of relevant men’s ministry on to someone else. You may not be required to head the endeavor, but you must be willing to participate. Further, keep in mind that a successful attempt to reach the men of your congregation cannot be limited to activity; it needs to reproduce leadership.

The words of Paul are essential: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

How are you going to reach men? One word: Invest! As a pastor, you must make time to connect with your men in a nonthreatening way. They need to be able to trust you, confide in you, believe in you, and learn from you without intimidation. Please trust me on this one. It will transform your ministry.

Mens-Fellowship-250x290Your investment will, in time, reap a bountiful harvest for the kingdom. Walking into the lives of other men with a masculine approach to Christ-like living will make a difference. Pastor — you hold the key! I can’t overstate how important it is that you invest in men.

Men need a challenge. Muslim men know they are locked in a battle between good and evil. We must encourage men in the body of Christ to step up and engage the evil one before we suffer one more defeat.

“Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat … and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).